Owings Mills development plan to move forward County eager to put setbacks behind it BALTIMORE COUNTY

February 03, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Songwriter Paul Simon called the phenomenon "slip-slidin' away."

It's the illusion of moving forward as you slip relentlessly back -- sort of like trying to reduce the national debt.

Baltimore County's public works engineers have spent 10 frustrating, slip-slidin' years trying to get state and then federal permission for an ambitious development scheme in Owings Mills.

First there was an unsuccessful attempt to build a dam and a lake. Now the county is trying to get approval for a vital road, sewer line and stream valley park instead.

At stake is the future of about one-quarter of Owings Mills, more than 1,200 acres of land -- most zoned for industry -- along Interstate 795 north of the Owings Mills Mall that the county is hoping to turn into a major commercial and employment center.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden gave up on the idea for the 100-acre lake as the area's centerpiece last May because of increasingly strict U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' rules about damming the Red Run trout stream and flooding wetlands.

Private developers who were planning expensive waterfront projects during the late 1980s have now turned to plans for offices and super-discount warehouse stores.

But the death of the dam-and-lake idea has not made it easier for the county to get approval for extending Red Run Boulevard north alongside I-795, or the vital sewer line that would serve the industrially zoned area. In fact, the work became harder, because plans for both had to be redesigned.

Because of the delay, the county now has to deal with a whole new set of federal officials and familiarize them with a basic county growth strategy that has been in place since 1979.

That means explaining that new development is being concentrated and encouraged in Owings Mills and White Marsh to channel it away from the rural north and western county farms and fields.

Despite expressions of good will from various state and federal agencies at a meeting in May, when Mr. Hayden announced he was giving up on the lake, until last month the county seemed no closer to starting work on the road and sewer line.

Now county officials have completed another round of meetings with the Corps of Engineers, federal and state environmental protection agencies, the state Department of Natural Resources, and a representative from Gov. William Donald Schaefer's office. This time, they all said, they've agreed on a process which should allow the development to go forward.

Even public works director Gene Neff, whose relationships with past Corps officials have been less than friendly, said the new District Engineer, Col. J. Richard Capka, "is very impressive."

He said the years battling over the dam and lake overshadowed the road and sewer line and skewed the whole process. "We had to go back and do a tremendous amount of work," he said, to redesign the sewer line that once would have run under the lake so that it would not damage the Red Run trout stream.

The current plan is to substitute regular, face-to-face meetings between state, county and federal officials, for the long, technical letters and memos that had taken months to move from one office to another.

"This is a good process," said Linda A. Morrison, chief of the Corps' Western Shore Permits section. She said the Corps hopes to use the process as a model for other large local projects, as well as for projects in other counties.

When the proposed lake was abandoned, Mr. Neff said he had hoped that the sewer line that was to run in the stream bed beneath the lake and the extension of Red Run Boulevard would be approved quickly.

But that was not realistic, according to David Carroll, Governor Schaefer's staff expert on Chesapeake Bay. He said the Corps has a much broader job of protecting wetlands and the environment now, compared to the narrow engineering function it had performed for years.

Without the lake and dam, "it becomes a new project," Mr. Carroll said, and it has to be considered as a package.

Meanwhile, the face-to-face contact will happen "often enough to keep this roaring down the tracks," Mr. Hayden said.

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